Interview with WOW! Runner Up Julie Anderson Slattery
Julie Anderson Slattery enjoys a good challenge. This WOW! Fall Contest runner up moved from Missouri to New York City. She also changed jobs from trade magazine writer, to editor of consumer magazines and now writes fiction. “Ferry to the Show”, her beautiful, rhythmic personal essay about the Big Apple and being alone in the big city, drew us in and touched our hearts.
WOW: Julie, in your winning story, you write about your first impressions of New York City. Was it therapeutic to write about “your city” in light of the 9/11 tragedy?
Julie: Always! I've written about 9/11 several times. My husband was working in the World Financial Center and we were on the phone when the second plane hit. Our call was disconnected and I didn't talk to him again until he arrived home just after lunch. We were really lucky, but so many others, including people in the town we lived in, were not. In addition to the loss of so much life and humanity, I mourn the skyline a great deal. The towers were the anchors of gold I would see on a sunny day on the ferry, and their outline had enabled us to see the city more clearly from New Jersey. It had been so reassuring to see those twin rectangles and know that even if I'd left the city I loved so much, it was close by and visible.
WOW: That was a tragic day for everyone, especially for those living so close. In reading your essay, I felt like I was there with you experiencing the city through your eyes. Do you feel like your experience as the new girl in New York City is pretty typical?
Julie: Certainly, it's typical for the girl who is a stranger to the city. Many of the friends I made had grown up near the city, or were being subsidized by parents, and I think their experience was different; they had a safety net. While these friends are savvy and fun, my bond to the friends who arrived like myself, clueless and alone, is probably stronger.
WOW: Well put. Being alone without a safety net is pretty scary, but it causes you to toughen up pretty quickly. I bet that experience fueled other areas of your writing as well. Julie, you said that you have written in the horror and young adult genres. What draws you to those two categories of fiction? What other genres do you write?
Julie: I was raised on Stephen King. I remember trying to study for an exam in college, and alternating a half hour of review, with an hour of "The Stand." There is something about horror and supernatural themes that help me escape more completely. Perhaps I find life a bit mundane? I always love believing that anything can happen; that anything might be out there. I've written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and still feel compelled occasionally when a topic entices me. I've also written two children's books that I'm trying to publish. The first is about a reluctant flowergirl who learns that weddings are about more than the chicken dance; the second, ironically, is a humorous book written to help young girls with divorced parents see their romantic futures with more...um, optimism. While there are many divorce books out there, I think older girls need to know that romance isn't a one-time shot. As a child of divorced parents, I feel pretty strongly that girls need consoling in this area.
WOW: Definitely. When I was growing up, I had several friends whose parents got divorced, but at that time, I don’t remember a book out there on the subject for girls to relate to. Surely, not a down-to-earth humorous book. What a great idea! You also said in your bio that winning a short story contest propelled you into fiction? What did winning that contest do for your writing career?
Julie: I entered the contest as a writing exercise. I'd always thought about writing fiction, but hadn't had the time and more importantly, the confidence. I saw the announcement for the contest, sat at my computer and tried to think of what really scares me. "The Quarry" wrote itself and I sent it in, and forgot about it. I was absolutely overcome when I won, but still so insecure that I placed the critiques I received in a drawer for a few days. When I had the nerve to read them, I was thrilled that the judges, (published writers!) wrote such encouraging comments. It gave me the confidence I needed to try a longer project.
WOW: We’re glad you did. It takes a lot of determination! In fact, you now have a young adult book that you are marketing to publishers. Can you tell me briefly what it is about?
Julie: "The Visitor" is about a Manhattan teen and an alien. Think a sexier "E.T." for today's more sophisticated kid. It's almost finished, and I anticipate a rather painful rewrite. As I've progressed, from say page 30 to page 200, I've read a lot more young adult fiction, and my character has matured a bit. I'm trying to follow the adage of plowing through before perfecting. Hope it works.
WOW: That’s the best way to do it. It’s always good to read others’ works, as long as it doesn’t cause you to doubt yourself and stop progressing on your own work. If you get that first draft down, you can keep your original train-of-thought and rework it later. So, was transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing difficult? What resources did you find that helped with the transition?
Julie: Completely difficult! I have a hard time with voice. I had thought that pulling everything out of my head, and not having to interview experts, would be cake. What I didn't realize is that my brain can go in about a thousand directions at once. I have to follow the strongest ideas and not question the path. I also learned that good writing takes research, no matter what genre. Probably the best resource I've found is reading other writers' suggestions and always, always finding the time to read the kinds of books I want to write. I also joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and their workshops are wonderful. I read Writer's Digest, too, and find the interviews with writers very encouraging.
WOW: Those are great resources, and author interviews are definitely inspiring! But what ultimately brought you out of the journalism/trade journal world and into the world of fiction?
Julie: Well, I almost got back into newspaper writing when my son was small. I did a few pieces for our local paper and they liked them a lot, started assigning tons of stories. I was swinging with my son in our backyard, he was probably five, when I realized I'd been ignoring him as I thought about an article I was writing. All day as I looked at him, I couldn't focus because I was excited about the piece. I finished it and decided only to write non-deadline work while he was in my care. Maybe a stronger person can separate her life better, but I tend to get married to projects and block everything else out. Of course, with fiction writing I need some work on my self-discipline, just about ALWAYS. With no strong deadline, I tend to dawdle to an amazing degree.
Another reason fiction was a natural choice is that I had lots of surgery after my son was born, and I knew I could only handle the parenting aspect of my life while I recovered. (Parenting, not domestic, if you could see how I keep and have always kept my house! Plus I don't cook. Not well, anyway.) Fiction is something I can do when I want, without pressure.
WOW: (laughs) Well, that’s one tip I’ve heard often from NaNoers—let the house go! So, do you think that your experience as a journalist has helped you with your fiction? Will you ever go back to writing non-fiction?
Julie: Absolutely journalism was helpful. I learned how to research, write dialogue and introduce myself to anyone at anytime. If the cause is important enough to me, I could see writing a feature here and there. I would like to get back into travel writing a bit, because I love to travel anywhere anytime. Again, though, I have trouble separating my attention, and on a writing "vacation" I tend to get a bit obsessive about seeing everything. My husband and son are pretty laid-back, so they're not keen on my agendas. I may travelwrite on my own, sometime. I also write columns in my head just about everyday, on parenting, my dog, marriage (in that order!), small town life, politics...maybe I'll get industrious one day and actually type them up. For now, they entertain ME.
WOW: That’s the mindset of a writer, always crafting possible stories throughout the course of a day. Hopefully, we also write about them! What is a typical writing day for you? How do you juggle writing and family?
Julie: I used to fill my days with a few hours of writing, walking my dog and trying to keep up with the house and learning to cook a bit (it didn't take). I was also a room mother for five years (do you need cupcakes for this party? okay, I can bake) and I initiated and led a newspaper club at my son's elementary school for three years.
As my young adult book grew, and my son grew older, I decided to become a substitute teacher and learn the slang of today. Even though the story is in New York, my character is a bit unsophisticated, so I'm hoping that suburban slang will work for him. I didn't know that working with middle and high school students would be so much fun, so engaging. I find that I write more and with a more authentic quality after I've spent a few days listening to teens slam and adore each other. It does take a lot out of you, however, so my days are varied. I seem to be always sneaking in an hour or two here and there on my laptop, when I know it should be my priority. I haven't grown up enough as a writer to claim my time. I also help my son (7th grade) with homework and transport him here and there a lot, and I am always, always, always sneaking off with two or three good books (I rotate according to my mood, a mystery, an award winner, a teen novel) and losing hours in them. Somehow, I'm back to where I was in college, one more chapter and I'll open the laptop, or do the laundry, or maybe try cooking dinner and if it doesn't work this time....!
I'm really lucky that my writing isn't essential to my income, but that's also a negative, because my writing isn't essential to my income....if it was, I think I'd be just super successful by now! Ha.
WOW: I think many of us can relate! But it’s good to set small goals and accomplishments as well. What are your short and long-term goals for your writing career?
Julie: I have to finish and publish this science fiction novel. It has haunted me for so long and must be birthed. Just writing it isn't enough. I really want to publish it: probably it's vanity, but also I want to share it with kids who think like I do, and I want to show my family that I haven't been typing nonsense all day. I also want to add to my short horror story and perhaps write it as a screenplay. This was a suggestion by one of the judges in that contest and I think it would make a fun horror movie. Of course, I'd need to take a quick course in script writing and that will have to happen after "The Visitor" is finished.
And when both of those projects are finished? I have an absolutely thrilling time-travel story in my head, that's just dying to get out.
If you haven't done so already, please read Julie's story, Ferry to the Show.
And remember, every Tuesday we'll be featuring an interview with one of the top 10 winners from the Fall 2007 Essay contest. So, be sure to check back and see who's up next!
For more details on WOW! Women On Writing's current contest, please visit:
by Susan L. Eberling